It was my first trip to Greece.  I had only a couple of days in Athens before flying to Mykonos.  Having experienced a fantastic free walking tour of lower Manhattan in New York City (thanks to the Laguardia Shuttle), to get the most bang for my buck on a short stay, I decided on an Athens walking tour.

I found an inexpensive half-day tour online and signed up for the next day.  The meeting point was a metro station in central Athens not far from my room at the Periscope Hotel, a Starwood Design Hotel.

Syntagma Metro Station

The winding streets presented problems following the map the hotel clerk provided and I arrived at the station a few minutes after the tour was scheduled to begin.  Fortunately, I caught up with the group just as the tour was starting.

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Syntagma Station

The metro station displays a collection of artifacts uncovered during construction.

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Our guide was the man in the hat.

The guide told the group about how these items were uncovered and preserved.

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Aqueducts
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An intricate inlaid floor

Parliament Building and Changing of the Guard

It was a short walk to Syntagma Square where we learned about the Old Royal Palace that now houses the Greek Parliament.20180616_120524_resized The Greek Tomb of the Unknown Soldier is just below and in front of the Parliament Building.  We arrived in time to get a good view of the changing of the guard.

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Guards wearing traditional uniforms. The shoes are weapons that soldiers would employ in battle in the manner shown.

The National Garden and Zappeion

The tour proceeded on a pleasant walk through the National Garden and past the Zappeion.  In 1920, King Alexander was bitten by a pet monkey in this garden.  He died of sepsis when the wound became infected.  Alexander’s death was a turning point in Greek history.  Look it up to get the full story.

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The National Garden

The Zappeion was built in the National Garden with the goal of reviving the Olympic Games.  In 1896, it served as the Olympic Village and fencing hall for the first Modern Olympic Games.

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Temple of Zeus and Hadrian’s Gate

The stroll through the National Garden brought the tour to a large open area containing the Temple of Zeus.

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The author at the Temple of Zeus

Construction of this temple started in 520 BC.  For a variety of reasons it was only during the reign of the Roman Emperor Hadrian 638 years later that the temple was completed.  The temple was supported by 104 17-meter tall Corinthian columns.

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Only a few columns remain because the temple was repeatedly used to supply building materials for homes and churches in medieval Athens.  Acropolis in background.

Exiting the area containing the Temple of Zeus, the tour stopped at Hadrian’s Gate (Arch).

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The Athenians built Hadrian’s Gate to commemorate the Emperor’s visit to Athens and the dedication of the Temple of Zeus in 131 AD.

The Acropolis

From Hadrian’s Gate it was a short walk to the Acropolis and the various historic architectural structures it holds.

Theater of Dionysus

Climbing the hill of the Acropolis, the first major structure is the Theater of Dionysus, the world’s first theater.

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The theater could seat 17,000.

Named for the god of wine, the theater has excellent acoustics.

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The theater from above.

The Acropolis has great views of Athens, but it is not the highest point in the city.

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An Acropolis view

The Erechtheion

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The Erechtheion is a temple dedicated to both Poseidon and Athena.  The Porch of the Maidens sits on the south side.

The Parthenon

The most famous building on the Acropolis is the Parthenon, an icon of Western civilization and Athenian democracy.

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Reading about the ancient Greeks as a kid, I never thought I’d be standing in front of the Parthenon one day.

The Parthenon was a temple but served primarily as an Athenian state treasury.  Over the years it also served as a church and a mosque.  The Parthenon was severely damaged in 1687. The Ottoman Turks used it to store ammunition (whose brilliant idea was that).  When a Venetian mortar shell found its mark, the Parthenon was history, literally.

The Acropolis Museum

Marching back down the hill, the last stop was the Acropolis Museum.

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The museum is built over ancient ruins. Glass floors inside the museum show visitors the ruins below.
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Five restored caryatids from the Erechtheion’s Porch of the Maidens are on display in the museum.  The sixth maiden, along with other sculptures and artifacts from the Acropolis, is displayed at the British Museum.  Greece strongly desires their return. 
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View of the Acropolis and Parthenon from the Acropolis Museum

The guide described many of the important artifacts in the museum.  He had a post-graduate depth of knowledge of Greek history, architecture, and all of the places we visited.

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The tour ended at the museum.  To get back to the hotel, the guide provided directions for the short walk to the metro station.

Overall Impression

This was a fantastic tour, and it cost less than $50!  In my experience, walking tours are the best.  The guides usually have a keen interest in the sights visited and are extremely knowledgeable.  To get a feel for a place, walking is much better than riding.  Plus walking tours almost always skip the shopping stops that are mandatory on most coach tours.

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